Inspired by a talk I gave yesterday at the BOS conference. This is long, feel free to skip!
My first real job was leading a team that created five massive computer games for the Commodore 64. The games were so big they needed four floppy disks each, and the project was so complex (and the hardware systems so sketchy) that on more than one occasion, smoke started coming out of the drives.
Success was a product that didn’t crash, start a fire or lead to a nervous breakdown.
Writing software used to be hard, sort of like erecting a building used to be hundreds of years ago. When you set out to build an audacious building, there were real doubts about whether you might succeed. It was considered a marvel if your building was a little taller and didn’t fall down. Now, of course, the hard part of real estate development has nothing to do with whether or not your building is going to collapse.
The same thing is true of software. It’s a given that a professionally run project will create something that runs. Good (not great) software is a matter of will, mostly.
The question used to be: Does it run? That was enough, because software that worked was scarce.
Now, the amount of high utility freeware and useful free websites is soaring. Clearly, just writing a piece of software no longer makes it a business.
So if it’s not about avoiding fatal bugs, what’s the business of software?
Phi Beta Iota: This is a very important post, read the whole thing. Earth Intelligence Network has been saying for four years that cell phones should be free to the poor, and so also call centers that educate the poor one cell call at a time. This post by Seth Goden helps explain the economics of that: the wealth is in the aggregate, in the new wealth creation, and in the outreach from the five billion poor. Software, like air, should be free–it powers life.